Hong Kong customs officers detect rising trend of gold and silver bars being smuggled from mainland China

Investigators suspect the trend is linked to a desire by mainland people to cash in as prices rise and amid heavy mainland trading restrictions and taxes

PUBLISHED : Monday, 05 September, 2016, 8:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 05 September, 2016, 8:00am

There has been a sharp rise in seizures of gold and silver bars smuggled from mainland China. Customs officers detected more than two tonnes in the first eight months of the year in a move thought to be connected to the rising value of the precious metals.

Officers seized about 2.2 tonnes of smuggled gold and silver worth more than HK$33 million this year, prompting Hong Kong and mainland authorities to strengthen inspections on both sides of the border, the Post was told.

There were no seizures last year and in 2014.

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It is understood the new trend surfaced in the second quarter of this year. Nearly 10 cases involving the import of precious metals from the mainland were detected at border control points over the past five months.

The biggest case involved the seizure ofHK$11 million worth of gold bars hidden in a secret compartment near the mud flap of a Hong Kong-bound limousine’s front wheel at the Shenzhen Bay border crossing.

“Among the seizures, only a small portion was gold, most was silver,” one source with knowledge of the trend said.

He attributed a sudden surge in the number of such smuggling cases to the rising price of the precious metals this year. The price of gold rose by nearly 30 per cent from about US$1,060 per ounce in January to about US$1,350 last month The price of silver rose by more than 40 per cent from about US$14 in January to more than US$20 last month.

The source said mainland traders wanted to cash in precious metals at the higher price, but faced tightened regulations and hefty taxes on the mainland.

He said the import and export of precious metals in mainland China was highly restricted and it was not easy to obtain export permits from the mainland authorities.

“Smugglers are paid to help them take the precious metals into Hong Kong to cash in,” the source said.

It is understood gold and silver bars are usually hidden in concealed compartments of cross-border vehicles or couriers are hired to smuggle them into Hong Kong.

After noticing the trend several months ago, customs officers sought help from their mainland counterparts to combat such activities, another source said.

He said inspections of cross-border vehicles at Hong Kong immigration control points had been stepped up.

“Mainland authorities have also enhanced checks on Hong Kong-bound travellers on the other side of the border,” he said.

A fortnight ago, a Hong Kong-bound woman was arrested at Shenzhen’s Louhu border checkpoint after mainland customs officers found more than HK$4 million worth of gold bars taped to her body.

On June 28, Shenzhen authorities intercepted and arrested 12 Hong Kong-bound travellers and seized 76kg of gold bars worth about HK$24 million at the Shenzhen Bay border checkpoint.

The trend has not always been to import precious metals. In the past two years, Hong Kong customs officers seized about one tonne of such metals hidden in Shenzhen-bound vehicles.

The Customs and Excise Department said the metals were mainly smuggled in cross-boundary vehicles by mixing them in with declared merchandise or hiding them in special compartments.

“Hong Kong customs will remain vigilant about emerging smuggling trends, as well as strengthen intelligence collection and risk assessment in a bid to ensure effective enforcement against all kinds of smuggling activities,” it said.

“Under the Import and Export Ordinance, smuggling is a serious offence. Any person found guilty of importing or exporting unmanifested cargo is liable to a maximum fine of HK$2 million and imprisonment for seven years.”